DEAR GAIL: I just bought a 15-year-old home and it's in a dire need of a new kitchen. My main problems are storage and countertop space. The island/breakfast bar has the old-fashioned upper cabinets. I need more storage, but I know those uppers must go. I'd also like more countertop space as I have very little besides the island. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. -- Colby
DEAR COLBY: I agree those upper cabinets need to go. That alone will update your kitchen.
So let's look at where we can get you the storage you'll be losing when you remove them, plus more. First, where can you relocate your old cabinets? Do you have room in the laundry room or garage? There's no need to throw them away if they can be used. Take an inventory of the items you rarely use -- those items that if stored somewhere else would not be an inconvenience to get, such as any large pans, pots, mixers, platters or a second set of dishes you only use on holidays. Place these in your old cabinets.
Next, let's get rid of any dead space you have. Put lazy Susans in your corners. Doors here just create wasted space since you can't get to what gets pushed back into the corner.
Replace any stationary shelves with pull-out shelves, especially in your pantry. And use full-extension slides on both the shelves and all your drawers. Full-extension slides will allow your shelves and drawers to open all the way giving you full access to their backs.
If your island is at least 36 inches deep, add cabinets on the breakfast bar side. If you use upper cabinets on both sides, since they are only 12 inches deep, you'll still have 12 inches to sit at. To make them countertop height you just have to add a 6-inch base. It makes them the perfect height and gives you another place for rarely used items.
If you have a 48-inch-wide island, you can use drawers on your work side and cabinets on the breakfast bar side, which still gives you 12 inches to sit at.
Of course, if you have the space to add cabinets, now is the time to do so. When I remodeled my kitchen, I was able to place a second floor-to-ceiling cabinet next to my breakfast bar. It backs up to the end of my cabinets and faces my table area. It's a perfect place for my extra dishes, linens and paper goods.
One of my favorite items to add are dishpan drawers. They are 7 inches deep and can be made 42 inches wide. I don't suggest going any longer as the drawer can get heavy. They work much better for your pans and baking dishes than the door pull-out shelves.
Do you have the room for taller uppers? Standard height is 36 inches, but 42 inches won't cost that much more. I've gone even higher by adding 12-inch cabinets above. Of course, this is not an area for everyday storage, but it's perfect for your holiday items.
Now let's look at getting you more countertop space. If your microwave is on the counter, move it off and up. I placed mine in a cabinet over my single oven. If you're going to move it into a cabinet, make sure it's not too high. I wouldn't have the bottom any more than 53 inches off the floor. It's not safe to pull out hot items higher that. If you have a regular stove hood, replace it with a microwave hood.
If you have the space, something else to consider is to make your countertops 30 inches deep versus the standard 24 inches. Even though your cabinets are only 24 inches deep, unless you have them custom made, all you need to do is bring them to the front of your counter. You'll pay a little extra for your countertop, but it's worth it.
Do you have the room to move your cabinets down any? Can you extend your island? It's amazing what even an extra 12 inches can give you in work space.
I hope I've given you some ideas you'll be able to incorporate into your kitchen. One thing I can't stress enough is to take the extra time in planning. It's not something you'll probably do again, so a little extra time to plan and review is worth it. Have someone else look at your plan before you take a hammer to your kitchen or place any orders as it's always more difficult to catch our own mistakes than someone else's.
Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is: www.GMJinteriors.com.